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The Proof of the Pudding
[sdw] Gazing aft over the arrow-straight phosphorescent wake of the dear Surprise, Dr Maturin considered the physics of luminescence and infinite array of possibility, improbability and circumstance that had caused the ship to enter this bright patch at just this time. These stars and this glow would exist with or without a ship: what randomness, what lack of design, what voids of meaninglessness; until meaning was conferred simply by the presence of observers. And such a mixed bag of observers: crew, officers, marines, the mysterious civilians who seemed to have arrived without any particular invitation, and the prisoners deep in the hold.

Sighing, Maturin brushed off a small white feather, quite out of place in this ship and time, and walked forward and down towards the sound of a violin capably exploring a Bach partita, and so into the Captain's cabin, where the same scene presented itself behind the generous, middle-life figure of the violinist, though, in this case the stars were slightly diminished by the blue glow of the ion drives to port and starboard. Breaking off, Jacqueline said:

"Why there you are, Steph, my girl. Why so glum? We have made prodigious strides today, I do assure you," she glanced at a screen, "nearly 8 parsecs this watch alone. At this rate we will orbit Io in the morning. You can see it on the bow screen, quite large and fine."

Stephanie said: "I am sorry to have interrupted, Jacky dear, but it is that Mr Wogan fellow. No ship crewed by women can stand so much testosterone, I am sure: the entire quarterdeck fair melts when he laughs. And then the middies, as you know, accessed the watch camera in his cabin. I am just come from there. He told me

[srz] -- nay, insisted most vehemently -- that the conditions of his confinement were not of a sufficiency to be attempted to be borne by a person of his moderately frail constitution; an undeniable, though unfortunate, condition shared by all members of his sex, I fear. He positively asserted that his servant, Mr. Gump, had developed as nasty a case of...well I do not like to say. And I must admit, in looking around his...cabin, that airless, viewport-deficient, unfurnished hellhole on C deck, hard by the port drive's azimuthal yoke mount..." Here she paused with satisfaction to permit an appreciation of her command of the ship's anatomy, "...that I tend, on the whole -- while mindful of his dubious status aboard this vessel -- that I tend to agree with Mr. Wogan's assessment, if my current state of moderate arousal, not to mention mounting hunger at the sight of that plate of toasted cheese on the locker by your right elbow, and it a most unseemly shade of greenish-purple -- your elbow, that is, not the cheese; I shall have a look at it presently (your elbow, that is; the cheese I intend to devour with an entirely immoderate pleasure) -- does not cloud my judgement; always mindful, of course, that, ...that..." Steph trailed off in a hopeless muddle of punctuation and derailed sentence structure.

"Yes. Just so. Perhaps you're right, Doctor; I shall most certainly look into the matter," said the Captain. "It would not do to have our...guests pule into a lethargy before we reach the meridian. It is a long, uncertain voyage we have ahead of us, and trans-celestial navigation being the art that it still is..."

"Are we not to put in at Io, then, at all, at all? Must we be in such a tearing hurry all the livelong day? I had so looked forward to taking our new mid, young Baker -- good mind, sound morals, and an excellent hand at data reduction -- on a scientifical collecting expedition beneath the Iovian ice crust; where there may yet be nondescript species of..."

She was interrupted by the door, which dilated with a gentle susurration and announced in a pleasant, masculine voice the hasty entrance of an ancient mid who curtseyed, a bit creakily, and gasped, "Oh, begging pardon, Doctor." Turning to Captain Aubrey, she continued, "Lieutenant Skinner's compliments, Ma'am, and she has discovered a stowaway in the aft cargo bay on E deck; put up a fair fight when cornered, I was to say. Stunned a bit in the melee, but quite all right. A gentlewoman, it seems; name of

[js] Michaela Herapath."

"A gentlewoman?" echoed Jacqueline. "What can she be about? Got some lad into trouble, I dare say, and has run away to space to avoid the consequences... Thank you, Wenger, I'll deal with her directly."

As the doors whooshed gently shut behind the portly form of her friend and the mid scuttling crab-wise and awkward beside her, Stephanie's mind returned yet again to Daniel Villiers. His uncommonly graceful carriage, his dash, his style, his pride. So unlike the greater part of his sex. And Louis Wogan was so damnably alike... and yet so dissimilar. A tantalising echo of what she had lost.

"I am," remarked Jacqueline later, "as fond of men aplanet as the next woman..."

"Indeed?" asked Stephanie, smiling gently to herself.

"But I have never known anything but a prodigious amount of trouble come of shipping them on a voyage - tension, rows, not enough to go round, jealousies. And they are really not quite the thing in port either; drunkenness and a shocking sick list on departure. Why, that gypsy manservant of Mr Wogan has..."

But she stopped in mid-sentence to gaze in amazement at the swirling vortex which had appeared before them in the blink of an eye.

"A discontinuity, my dear," cried Stephanie as she was dragged inexorably towards it; an eager natural philosopher even in extremity. "An interstice in the very fabric of space and time. Some call them wormholes."

A twisting tunnel of light; strange new colours, seemingly from an hitherto unseen part of the spectrum, danced on its walls. A nightmarish babble of sounds, some few of them distinct words: "a great leap for mankind... ...I have a dream... fight them on the beaches... brother, can you spare... keep the home fires ... four score and seven years ago our... I will be good..." As Stephanie and Jacqueline were pulled towards an unseen target, they caught sight of an oddly familiar pair travelling the other way: a tall, blond, bulky man in a strange sort of uniform and a meagre, pale fellow in the dirtiest of black coats. The two women landed with a crash on an unpleasantly hard surface which seemed to be made of wood, of all things.

On HMS Surprise, Mr Midshipman Wenger gaped in slack-jawed wonder at the two women who had appeared where his Captain and the doctor had stood only moments before. Strangest of all - and his mind could barely grasp the enormity of this - they were wearing trousers.

On the United Planets vessel Surprise,

[bab] Killick flicked a feather from the toasted cheese and consumed it in one gulp. She would say it was a midshipman had ate it - that Baker most likely which she was always reducing a poor beggar's data for her with never so much as a by your leave. The Captain's steward burped with sour satisfaction then whipped out an old laser polisher and set to work polishing the touch screens, Jacqueline's violin and the Doctor's sensitive, extremely sensitive, experimental ultragalagometer, the only one of its kind in the whole United Planets fleet. Maybe later she would put that old music away too. Somewhere safe. Somewhere they wouldn't find it.

"Killick! Put the Doctor's valuable instrument down, put it down I say and get yourself out of that disreputable garment and into something more seamanlike. I will not have my Steward exhibiting his meagre attractions in that outlandish way. We would be the talk of the Fleet, what if Admiral Critchley were to hear of it? Eh? Eh? And please to return this cabin to the state in which you found it...God's blood man! what have you done with my stern chaser?"

[shw] "Eeek!" shrilled Chastity Killick. "Which I was just a'polishing it, weren't I," she snarled whimperingly, "and this bloomin' platinum don't take much of a shine, no matter how hard I scrape, scrape, scrape and rub, rub, rub, and it just don't seem to show much improvement, and then the bushings and bushmills keep falling off and getting stepped on, and the Trinque girl allus' falling onto it from off the t'gallant holodeck don't help much whatall, as ye know . . . Sir?" This last in a not-overly-subdued whisper, but enough drop in pitch to escape the expected lash or the long-overdue spanking from whoever might be listening. She scratched her head, tossed her hair, scratched at her grxpln, and gazed admiringly at the larger of the aliens.

"The deck is hollow?" Jack wondered. He turned to Stephen, his merry blue eyes growing cold. "Did you bring another colony of termites aboard?"

Stephen Maturin cracked a delighted smile as a wookie swung down and scooped a hairy fistful of potato chips from the snack tray and scooted aloft, munching, without so much as swiping them in the sour cream dip. Suddenly clemmed, Jack Aubrey shook his huge fist at the beast, which cried, and plummeted headlong from the top, Stephen catching her just before disaster; the impact sent him careening into Baretta Bonden's drawn phaser.

"Men!" she muttered. "Clumsy oafs. Good only for one thing, and not good at that." She rubbed the vicinity of her Netscape Communicator badge gingerly, and began using Jack Aubrey most shamefully.

Meanwhile, back on the waterlogged planet:

"Anachronistic warbird-shaped flying machine coming through a hole in the sky, two points off the starboard bow!" howled the lookout.

"The sails are down to forty percent and failing," reported Chips, the carpenter.

[dac] With a gust of exhaust fumes that rocked the Surprise the Warbird landed amongst the waves, folded up its wings and paddled towards the small frigate with its undercarriage. It might have been the wind but Steph swore she heard a faint quacking noise as it came towards them.

Still disorientated, but acting on instinct Jacqueline barked "Arm the Photon carronades, fire on my order. You girl" pointing at a rather surprised Babbington, "put your tongue away and bring me a Earl Grey tea, tell Killick to lay out my Full Dress Frock, she smiled ..... the one by Planet ..oh Steph do you smoke it?" she said chuckling.

The Doctor smiled distractedly at her friend's joke, "I think my dear we have entered a chronic anomaly. Why I know that these creatures have been extinct for 500 years" she said pointing at the ship's goat "thank God".

"Not again," Jacqueline muttered, the tea helping her head to clear. "Ms Pullings" she spoke into her communicator, "the Doctor and I along with several confused Klingons seem to have entered a time distortion. Please give the two gentlemen who I imagine have replaced us every courtesy, but don't let them mix with the crew. I would appreciate a certain amount of diligence on your part in discovering a solution to this problem."

"I'll try Captain but I canna change the laws of physics" drifted faintly from the microphone.

"Oh well" ....(Jacqueline looked around at the puzzled but bronzed and well muscled seamen on deck)...."time is not necessarily of the essence, Ms Pullings"

USS Surprise

Jack sat on the edge of the desk recovering from Bonden's attentions and more importantly from the sight of what was presumably his servant.

Killick had as usual sartorially gone where no one had gone before and was currently wearing, a pink housecoat and beige cardigan with cerise furry slippers, her hair was wrapped in a duster and the butt end hanging out of the corner of her mouth finished off the ensemble. It was not an image Jack found easy to dislodge.

Stephen on the other hand was looking at a short elaborate tube hanging on the wall and reading the plate underneath.

Lightsabre awarded by the Lloyds Patriotic Fund to Captain Jacqueline Aubrey
For action against the Klingon Empire
Mentioned in the Gazette 12 July 2325

"Jack," he said after a moment .........

[bat] "Do ever you dream in colour?" Perhaps, Stephen mused, he shouldn't have indulged in that extra-large ball of coca leaves sprinkled with ground mocha and drenched with laudanum, especially considering he had followed it with a immoderate draught of that curious whiskey he had acquired as a souvenir during his unwilling visit to Boston, Massachusetts. What had the Americans called it? A French name of some sort, he thought. Bonbon? And it had now led to such an unusually vivid dream. If he wasn't certain, comfortably certain, that he was in reality asleep in his cot, he might consider himself to be quite disoriented, even anxious.

Stephen heard a wooshing sound behind him, reminiscent of the call of the lesser Sumatran owl, and he turned to see an open doorway and, coming through the opening, a tall, very tall, prodigiously tall, young woman with red hair and eyes of shamrock green. "Patti-Ann," Killick clucked, "which I told you the Doctor ain't here." The young woman nodded her head uncertainly, the flame-like hair cascading down her shoulders, and she looked at Stephen with a look of wonder which grew into a frank hunger. Patti-Ann's tongue flicked across her lips, her very red lips, and she stepped closer to Stephen. He gazed upwards at her and suddenly hoped the ball of coca leaves had been large enough to sustain this coloured dream for a few bells longer.

Meanwhile, give or take a few centuries, back on Earth ...

"And Stephanie, if I should invest in this time continuum just a hundred or so Federation Credits in a solid financial fund - the South Seas venture mentioned this quaint old printed news dissemination sheet, for example - why, the principle of compound interest over the centuries would guarantee, absolutely guarantee, that I should be wealthier than a Romulan nabob when we pop back through that time discontinuity. Absolutely guaranteed."

Stephanie had seen Jacqueline lose several fortunes over the course of their friendship and, notwithstanding her profound ignorance of compound interest or any mathematical concept beyond the notion that subtraction was something like addition in reverse, Stephanie was certain that Romulan nabobs would prove to be paupers. "Sister," she said, "I think we may have something more immediately of concern at hand. Are you aware of evolution in germs and in the hosts of germs? The unpleasant fact that a bacterium which causes naught but a passing sniffle to ourselves in our own time might have a quite different effect upon our ancestors of who knows how many centuries in the past? And that right now, those germs we entirely inadvertently carried with us on the Warbird are multiplying and spreading among the crew of this vessel?" She glanced across the breadth of wooden floor- "deck", she had heard someone call it - and studied the men standing there. Yes, she was quite sure now that their faces showed a distinctive

[sdw] mottle.

As she considered the deeply tanned face of the helmsman, Stephanie felt the familiar prickling on the back of her neck, the prickling that always presaged the interruption of some treat or pleasant pass-time, the calling to rush away to attend some poor soul afflicted with a condition, frequently imaginary, almost always trivial, and so she was not surprised to hear close behind her Patti-Ann's Irish:

"God bless you now, ma'am. I hope I see you well."

There she stood with Baretta Bonden who was explaining to Jacqueline, "Lt Wenger's compliments, and she is very sorry that the doctor's tribble has been at the transporter. We have come to bring you back to the barky." Behind them stood a very large, very red-faced Post Captain and a small snuff-coloured man who persisted in trying to take up Patti-Ann's hand.

"Very good, Bonden," said Jacqueline. "Carry on. Good day to you, sir," she said to Jack Aubrey as they dematerialized.

Back in her own cabin, Jacqueline took up her pen, in emulation of her literary hero, Patrick O'Brian.

My dearest Sophocles - I hope this finds you and the children thriving. Stephanie sends her love, though of course she is a little sulky now that her tribbles are to be confined away from the transporter room. They do love to skylark about the ship, both inside and out, but it won't do when it endangers the ship. She is also much taken up with some sort of gaol fever that the prisoners have brought with them, the most amazing, unpleasant thing.

She passed over the shrieking horrid sight of the aliens bursting out of their victims, scrabbling away to find another, and then locking themselves crablike over their faces. The latest cases were in the airlock, firmly locked from the inside, and ready to be ejected. She continued:

Most of the contagion is among the poor prisoners, however, and Stephanie is confident that we are over the worst. No ships have we met on this voyage, except for a very large Dutchman. Avoiding him has taken us far from the sun indeed but we hope to loop around presently, drop off these prisoners on Io - Stephanie is with child to see a Great White Subnivean Ionian Penguin -

Here she was interrupted by young Baker, wide-eyed with news.

"It's the Dutchman again, Ma'am. He's just a parsec away and closing fast."

[srz] Half a dozen quick strides brought her from the great cabin to the quarterdeck. "On-screen, Ms. Baker." Suddenly, the ghostly image of a three-masted, ship-rigged '74 filled the display. "The scanners don't seem to be able to penetrate their shields, Ma'am; I can't tell you much about her except..."

A new, measured voice broke in: "They're cloaked behind the image of what appears to be an early 19th century Terran warship of a type that was propelled only by -- you may find this hard to believe Captain -- only by the force of the wind, over the surface of the vast watery oceans of that planet. Their armament consisted primarily of a primitive sort of elongated cylinder made from a cast metallic alloy of iron, which threw a spherical iron projectile weighing roughly one hundred twenty-two point seven three Newtons, using an inefficient pyrotechnic mixture of..."

"Stow the historical details, if you please, Stephens," said the Captain, "Can you tell me anything about the slab-sided Dutchman hiding behind the cloak, and why he's shadowing us about the system?" Science Officer Jessie Glennie Furey Macrae Salmon Stephens stiffened, drew herself up to her full, impressive height, and turned her impassive Scots-Irish-Welsh-Vulcan visage toward the Captain.

"I merely assert what I know of the facts in this matter in order to provide all relevant information on which to formulate a decision founded in logic; those who ignore history do so at their peril, as has been demonstrated again and again throughout recorded time." Pausing to catch a small white feather that floated incongruously from the ventilation system, she went on, "However, as to the nature of the...slab-sided Dutchman, as you so charmingly put it: I can state with a fair degree of certainty what I know about our pursuers: that is, precisely...nothing. Nichts. Nada. Niente. Their cloaking technology is far in advance of anything we've encountered before."

Just at that moment something clanged off the hull of the Surprise behind their heads. "What was that," shouted Jacqueline, "And where in the Seven Sisters did it come from? I need hard data, people."

"Look, Ma'am," Baker offered from her station, pointing at the ghostly image on-screen, "There are flashes, and clouds of black smoke; they seem to be coming from near what I take to be the bows of the vessel in the cloaking image."

Stephens tried again, "I believe they are firing those selfsame iron projectiles I mentioned before. At us, Captain. Our shields are optimized to interact with and neutralize high energy gigajoule particle weapons; they are not designed to deflect spherical, ferromagnetic objects travelling at sub-orbital speeds." She turned to her viewscreen. "Damage is reported on B deck just aft of the quarterdeck docking interface; hull breach appears imminent."

Jacqueline, touching her communicator, called loudly, "Mr. Pullings: what do you make of it? Can you do anything? Redirect the shields? Shore up the hull? We need more time!"

"I dinna ken wha' ye expect me tae do aboot it from doon here in Engineering," Pulling's voice came to them as another ball clanged off the hull, louder this time. "They ha' nae taught a class in projectile weapons at the Academy for nigh on tae two standard deca-cents."

"Dr. Maturin: have you anything to propose? In the political line, I mean?" Jackie spun about and gazed earnestly at her old friend, who was in the process of turning an amorphous, glistening object -- encased in a disreputable, loosely woven cloth -- over and over in her hands, peering closely at its mottled surface.

"What did you say, Jackie, dear? I was examining this object, this curious, apparently comestible object, that I obtained during our short little temporal excursion earlier, so I did; no sense in passing up an opportunity to advance our knowledge of the ancients, as I am sure you will agree. Its keeper, who cried out something about 'the Captain's dinner' as I collected the specimen -- a moment, no more, before we were transported back to our own dear Surprise -- its keeper, I say, seemed oddly attached to it. I shouldn't have thought it worth much trouble, but there it is."

Science Officer Stephens glanced over and offered, "That, Doctor, is what was known in the pre-Federation era as a 'pudding', much admired by the 19th and 20th century inhabitants of a Terran island nation closely associated with boiled foodstuffs assembled from otherwise inedible ingredients. This particular example is, I believe, of the variety known, contemporaneously, as a 'spotted dog'." Glancing over her shoulder at a gash appearing in the hull overhead as another ball skipped off the hull, she continued with some urgency: "If you have completed your examination of the object, I believe I know how best we might make use of this pudding."

[js] "It is a little-known fact," she continued, "that the fumes of suet are poisonous to the uncommonly purple aliens known as the D'utch. It penetrates their qwertyuiop - their outer shell, their carapace if you will - and sends a signal along the asdfghjkl sensory system to the zxcvbnm, which convinces one of their brains that they are listening to something very like Stockhausen's "Kontakte". If you will forgive a gross expression, it drives the bleeders barmy; they rarely survive for more than 30 seconds... A cruel death," she finished thoughtfully.

"Well, that's capital," said Jacqueline, "We heat the pidding..."

"Puddinck," corrected Stephanie.

Something that sounded wonderfully like a stifled laugh came from Stephens' direction, and Jacqueline continued firmly: "...the object, get it inside their ship and rely on the well-known efficiency of the D'utch ventilation systems to distribute the vapour. But how to get past their shields?"

"This is where their choice of cloaking image is of the first importance," said Stephens. A subspace scan of the vessel shows that there is a small ingress in one part of the outer surface. Our photon torpedoes would not be able to penetrate it, but it does appear to allow organic matter to pass in and out... I believe that it corresponds to the part of those ancient vessels which was known as "the head".

"Make it so, Ms Baker," ordered the captain.

Later, the entire bridge watched the display screen with total absorption. The fragile, high-cholesterol foodstuff upon which all their lives and hopes depended travelled with aching slowness across the blackness of space. As it reached the alien ship, it paused and seemed to think, before aiming for a particular point on the surface. The prodigiously clever young mid had designed a sub-warp propulsion and navigation system, and a shield to stop the precious comestible from boiling away to nothing. These fell away, and the spotted dick alone entered into the alien vessel.

A long minute later, the D'utch vessel imploded into nothingness, the collective mind of its psychically-gifted crew no longer holding it together. Absolutely no trace remained of the ship in the calm black vacuum of space where it had stood only moments earlier.

"Oh my God," said Jacqueline, "six hundred aliens."

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